Development of candidate management interventions to reduce foetal and calf loss

Losses between confirmed pregnancy and weaning continue to be one of the most important problems confronting beef industries globally. Lane et al (2015) recently estimated that dystocia and neonatal mortality cost the Australian beef industry nearly $200M annually. Burns et al (2010) have reviewed the causes of foetal and calf loss in northern Australia and highlighted the complex multifactorial nature of the problem.

The northern Australian beef industry has identified control of foetal and calf losses as one of its high priority areas for research. The recently completed Cash Cow project has provided invaluable data on the prevalence of foetal and calf loss in commercial beef breeding herds in this region (eg. median higher than 13% in the northern forest), and has identified that the major factors contributing to these losses are nutritional and environmental rather than infectious disease which usually has irregular large effects.

A more complete understanding of how causal factors result in calf loss is required to synthesise best-practice recommendations to minimise loss. Further, this understanding will indicate likely interventions that need to be tested under commercial conditions.

This project involved University of Queensland, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, AusVet, Department of Primary Industry and Resources, NT, University New England and industry collaborators. An industry reference group worked with the project team to conduct a combination of desk-top research, industry consultation and methods testing that together would constitute Phase 1 of a program over at least 5 years aiming to produce practical guidelines for sustaining low foetal and calf loss.

Project objectives were to:

  1. Develop an industry reference group to provide strategic guidance for this project and subsequent projects.
  2. Review current knowledge and understanding of the causes of foetal and calf loss for immediate application of best practice, and to identify candidate interventions for research by:
    • Further epidemiological analysis of existing datasets (Cash Cow, Beef CRC etc)
    • Determining for each known cause of calf loss current knowledge, knowledge gaps, impacts on productivity and business outcome, and interventions likely to mitigate these impacts
    • Further investigation of Cash Cow herds which consistently had very low or very high incidence of foetal/calf loss.
  3. Identify and evaluate methods to investigate the impact of management interventions to control foetal/calf loss in extensively managed beef herds.
  4. Develop a fully costed proposal for investigation of the outcome of implementation of selected management interventions.

To learn more about this project, please read the final report summary and download the final report (B.GBP.0001) (PDF, 1.3MB) from the Meat & Livestock Australia website.

When: 1 January 2016 to 30 June 2017

Where: Queensland, with some NT collaboration

Contact: David Smith E:

Collaborators: University of Queensland, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries,  Department of Primary Industry and Resources, NTUniversity New England